Monday, March 16, 2009

Lake District

Instead of conquering another big, European city, this weekend I ventured into a beautiful national park and loved it! In the northwestern part of England is the Lake District, a national park that welcomes over 12 million tourists a year and is only 1/4 the size of Yellowstone National Park. This place has something about it that can't quite be described, and can only be felt as you walk through its woods and take in the fresh air.

After dinner on Thursday, we boarded the coach and made drove the 6 hours to the Ambleside Youth Hostel, our home for the next three days. The accommodations were simple, but everything that we needed. Friday morning brought a nice cooked breakfast. Laurel and I decided on a walk to Grasmere for the day's activity. The hostel had information and maps on several walking/hiking paths around Ambleside. We left the hostel at about 9 am got to Grasmere around 11:30 am. It was about a 4 mile hike through some wooded areas and alongside beautifully still lakes. Everyone has scene a lake or stream before, but these lakes were so peaceful and calm. I walked right to the edge of the water and saw the stone, big and small, that made up the floor.
The crystal clear water was surrounded by the cloudy mist that made the edges of everything slightly fuzzy and hazy. The lakes were stunning and stood as a peace of nature that was untouched by
man's hurried creations. It was as if they were just shrugging off the world's stress and demonstrating a lifestyle that is perhaps a bit more fulfilling. In this case the journey became the important aspect of the trip. As you can tell this walk was more than just a walk, it was a cleansing.

Grasmere was quaint lakeside village with charm. There was an antique sale going and lots of outdoor shops. We first had to hit the famous spots, although there weren't that many! Sarah Nelson's Grasmere Gingerbread was a shop that couldn't fit more than two in the door, yet they have been selling world famous gingerbread for years. I could walk by the wafting smell of spices without going in for a taste. The gingerbread was very cookie like and the outside was crumbly. I enjoyed it so much. The flavor was distinct, but in a good way. It was a cheap snack and I still have a piece left which I am saving for a day this week. The next must-do stop was William Wordsworth's grave. He loved the Lake
District and spent many years in his multiple homes in the area. His whole family is buried simply in the Grasmere Cemetery. There is a daffodil garden below the graves in honor of Wordsworth and his famous poem "Daffodil." After popping into a cute tea shop for a cup of herbal tea, we proceeded to explore the town and then Dove Cottage. This is one of Wordsworth's homes. He lived here with his sister.

On the way back to the hostel Laurel and I got a bit confused, and just when we decided that we were more than confused (perhaps lost!), we spotted Bronwyn, Matt, and Dr. Green, all of our trip couriers from Harlaxton. Bronwyn and Matt work in Student Affairs and Dr. Green teaches British Studies. They had been to Grasmere as well and were heading back to Ambleside. We had a wonderful time following them back to Ambleside.
I had an especially "Lake District-y" experience. As you must walk along the lakes, the paths tend to be muddy. I was looking to cross over a large portion of mud, when instead, I fell face-first into the mud! It was a really funny experience and I am glad that it at least happened in the Lake District, a place where so many people are getting dirty all the time with their outdoor activities! I stood up, and found that my pant legs and one arm was covered in mud, but everything else was fine! Matt, Bronwyn, Dr. Green, Laurel, and I stood there laughing at my fall for quite a while. We finished the hike at a pub. I had a half pint of cider. It was really fun to visit with everyone for a little bit before getting back into town. When we reached Ambleside, Laurel and I stopped at the grocery store for some ingredients for spaghetti and meat sauce. The hostel had a self-catering kitchen which was a nice change from going out every weekend and the refectory during the week days. I really loved just cooking a simple meal. Frozen raspberries were on the menu for dessert. So good!! We made lots so we even had left overs the next day for lunch.

The day ended with some good Tazo chai tea (thanks to the family for sending me that-I love that tea!) and reading. It was also fun to hear where everyone else had gone for the day. So many great stories and memories are made in the Lake District.

Saturday began with a slow start. Originally we were going to take the bus to Bowness, but the times didn't work with our schedule, so we stayed at the hostel and just read some more. I am happy that we didn't try to do too much in the morning because the afternoon required all the strength I had!

When in the Lake District we had the option of doing some outdoor activities. The options were kayaking, rock climbing, Mountain hiking, and ghyll scrambling. I decided to do ghyll scrambling. I didn't know what this was until someone told me, so don't feel bad if you don't know either. Ghyll is actually a local word for a stream or river. So ghyll scrambling is actually walking up a waterfall. At first you say, "why would someone want to do this?" Then you do it and find the rush of excitement and energy that comes when you can look down at a waterfall and know you walked up it! We began by splitting into groups of 6-8 people and putting on harnesses and helmets. Then we just got going by getting in the waterfall! The water was REALLY cold. I was freezing the whole time. We had to help each other the whole time. At one point the only way to get to the top was to hold on the person in front and back of you walk up the rushing water in a line. Twice our instructor just walked up a big fall without any ropes or anything! He was awesome! Then he would secure ropes through them down and we would just scale the waterfall. It was hard at times, and I am still really sore. The final waterfall was quite large and the water just poured right on top of you, yet you still had to get to the top. Since the activity was so wet, I didn't take my camera, so I have no pictures of this crazy activity I did! This all probably sounds crazy, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. The 3 hours we were trudging through ice cold water, rushing down the hill, which was as deep as I am tall in places, were some of the best hours of this semester.

I came off the hill numb and sopping wet. My shoes are still drying as I write this post! I changed clothes but didn't really regain complete feeling in my hands and feet for another hour. We got back to the hostel and ate a quick dinner and ran a mile into town (it was cold and our coats were still wet from ghyll scrambling, so we ran to keep warm and get there faster). The evening's activity was seeing "The Young Victoria," a new movie. I think it is a British movie so it may not be in the States. A few weeks ago we went to Belvoir Castle (only 10 minutes away from the manor) for a school field trip. A good portion of the movie was filmed in Belvoir Castle and there we lots of the movie costumes on display while we were there. I really loved this movie. It centered on a young Queen Victoria as she was choosing her husband and trying to get he reign off on the right foot. I was captivated by the historical aspect of it especially since I had learned about several of the historical figures in British Studies. I loved the costumes and the actress who played Queen Victoria was extremely well casted. It was such a great end to an day of adventure and fun.

Sunday was beautiful. The sun peaked its head out from all the clouds which had been concealing it all weekend. I spent time by the lake which was right outside our hostel's front door. We left mid-morning for Harlaxton and made a few stops along the way. Our lunch time stop, Keswick, had a pencil museum! There was a pencil factory as well.
We didn't pay to go in, but we did walk by the building. I had a cup of tea at a cute cafe as well as a few chocolate dipped strawberries! They were delicious!

Now I am back at the manor and realizing that my time at Harlaxton has gone so quickly. At first the time seemed to pass somewhat slowly, but now it has picked up speed and I am struggling to keep up with it all! I love talking to any and everyone from home, and I will be so excited to see "the cookie jar" as well as my family and friends, but it will be a bittersweet moment. It is not easy to leave such a life as I live now. I have four more weekends with travel opportunities. All my trips have been satisfying and I have seen and experienced so much. What a way to spend four month.

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